Jacob Green: Chip Off the Old Block
September 7, 2011
By Scott M. Johnson
As each year passes since the final time Jacob Green suited up for a football game, the memories become less vivid and more scattered. Some have been stripped from his mind altogether, while a precious few are etched in his memory as if being played back on a video screen.
He can still see Curt Warner breaking a 60-yard run on his first carry as a Seattle Seahawk. He can still remember Steve Largent catching the game-winning touchdown pass to beat the Miami Dolphins and propel the Seahawks to what would become their only trip to the AFC championship game. And who could forget the Monday Night Football appearance when Kenny Easley intercepted three passes in a game that saw the Seahawks shut out San Diego?
But the day that he can remember most clearly, that Jacob Green feels like he can practically reach out and touch, is that afternoon in 1984 when he was carrying so much emotion that he broke down into tears several times — first on the field during pre-game warmups, and finally in the locker room after a win over the hated Los Angeles Raiders.
Jacob Green might not be able to pinpoint the greatest moment in the history of Seattle Seahawks football, but there is one thing he knows for certain.
“That game there,” Green said, “was the game that I would have to say was the game of my life.”
On that fall afternoon inside the Kingdome, Jacob Green was playing like a man possessed. He was pushing people around with the strength of two men. Everything was happening with such dream-like precision that Green felt like he had an angel on his shoulder.
And, in a way, he did.
Jacob Carl Green Jr. didn’t have to look far to find a role model for life. The father who gave young Jacob his own name was always there for him, always providing the blueprint for how to become a man. And there was never any doubt that Jacob Green Sr. was proud of the son who carried his name. If Junior was doing something particularly impressive, Jacob Sr. would stick out his chest and boast: “Chip off the old block.” It was the best compliment Jacob Green Jr. could ever receive.
“My dad was a great man,” Jacob Jr. said years later. “A man’s man. He worked every day of his life, took care of the family, and taught me how to be a man and how to treat people.”
Because of his father’s hard work, Jacob Jr. was able to chase opportunities his father never could. While Jacob Sr. just had stories about what a great baseball player he could have become if not for obstacles like family commitments and racial inequality, Jacob Jr. got to follow his athletic dreams at an early age.
Jacob Green Jr. was blessed with physical talent and his father’s strength, gifts that helped him on the baseball field, the basketball court, and the gridiron. By the time he was a junior in high school, Green realized that football would probably be his eventual calling. But his father stressed the importance of academics and made Jacob Jr. maintain part-time jobs – just in case.
Even when Jacob Green accepted a football scholarship to attend Texas A&M, a school that was only a 90-minute drive from his parents’ Houston home, there were still no guarantees. His father continued to preach the importance of finding a career goal upon which Jacob could fall back if the football thing didn’t work out.
But when the Seahawks traded up six spots in the first round of the 1980 NFL draft to take Green with the 10th overall pick, it became apparent that the Texas A&M defensive lineman wouldn’t need any alternate career plans. Not anytime soon.
As a rookie, Green started in 13 games for the struggling Seahawks, who went 4-12 during that 1980 season. He kept that starting job while the Seahawks ascended to higher places. The team improved to 6-10 in 1981, went 4-5 during the strike-shortened 1982 season, then had a breakout year in 1983 by going 9-7 and advancing all the way to the AFC championship game.
The following year, statistically, was the franchise’s greatest season to date. In 1984, the Seahawks went 12-4 and were playing like a legitimate contender to go back to the championship game. It was the greatest regular season the franchise had ever had, a year filled with celebration and happy memories. But for Jacob Green, it was also the saddest year of his life.
In December of that year, Jacob Green Sr. was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was told that he had between six weeks and six months to live, and so Jacob Jr. jumped on a plane and flew to Houston to be with his father.
It was during that visit that Jacob Jr., then 26 years old, got to say something he’d never said before. For the first time, he told his father that he loved him.
“I had never told him that,” Jacob Green Jr. said 23 years later. “He knew that I loved him, but I told him that for the first time. He told me he loved me too.”
In the end, Jacob Sr. had far fewer than six weeks to live. He was gone a few days after his son’s visit, about a week after originally learning that he had cancer. As Jacob Green Jr. would later lament: “When cancer hits you, it hits you hard and fast.”
When Jacob Jr. learned of his father’s death, he flew back to Houston again in the middle of the week, even though the Seahawks were scheduled to play their most heated rival, the Los Angeles Raiders, in a wild-card playoff game at the Kingdome that weekend. The Seahawks had lost to the Raiders in the 1983 AFC championship game, so they were looking for revenge. The rivalry was at its peak, and the Seahawks wanted nothing more than to send the Silver and Black back to L.A. feeling blue. It was no secret that the Seahawks needed Green to have a chance, and yet no one really expected him to play.
Not only did Green play, but he had the finest game of his career. With a franchise playoff-record 2½ sacks, and several other quarterback pressures, Green played the game of his life.
But he likes to think that he got a little help from above along the way.
Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Raiders
Dec. 22, 1984
As told by Jacob Green
My father had died that week, and I dedicated that game to him. I wasn’t in town for practice, and the coaches didn’t know if I was going to play. I didn’t even know if was I was going to play. But I played, and we beat the Raiders 13-7. I had 2½ sacks. I was out there for my father, and I played like I was possessed for that particular reason. I was really playing. We had Kenny Easley on defense and all these other people playing well: Jeff Bryant, Joe Nash, all those guys. But that was my day.
Jeff Bryant and Joe Nash and (defensive assistant) George Dyer, those were my guys. They told me to go play for my dad.
All I could remember was crying on the field during the game. I remember crying during warm-ups. But once the game started, I was there. Then after the game I remember crying in the locker room.
When I got on the field for the game, I had this feeling of power. I knew exactly what was going on. I was in another world.
I’ll never forget that game. I remember one particular play in which I was rushing against Raiders offensive lineman Henry Lawrence, and it was like I got some super strength from somewhere. I had Henry so off balance that I literally picked him up and moved him. Later on, I found out that television commentator Deacon Jones said during the telecast that he had never seen a pass rush like that; he had never seen a pass-rush exhibition put on like that.
Henry Lawrence was a great player, but he happened to catch me on the wrong day. He was a great player, and I take nothing away from Henry, but that day I dominated that game.
I knew that I had played well that game for a reason. It was one of those things. It was for my dad.
After the game, we were excited, we were celebrating, we had won. I remember Charle Young, my teammate, taking the game ball and giving it to Kenny Easley because he had a great game too. Usually Chuck Knox would be the one to give the game ball, but for some reason Charle felt like he had to that game because he was one of the veteran leaders. I’ve got all these game balls in my house, and I can tell you what each was for. But I didn’t get that one.
I remember coming back, sometime the following week because I had left the next day for my dad’s funeral, and Chuck Knox gave me another game ball. He told me that I deserved the game ball for that particular game. And I thought I did too. That’s where my mind was. I wanted to win one because of what had happened to my dad.
That game, no question, was one of my greatest games I ever played in. It meant a lot, in a lot of different ways – all the anger of my dad not being there, the sadness of him not being there. I took it out on the football field and played that game for him. A lot of people still talk to me about that game.
And Green will never forget the game. Not only is it etched into his memory, but Green also gets a constant reminder every time he visits his mother’s Houston home, where that game ball is on display. Easley said that he gave the actual game ball to Knox to present to Green, and that ball eventually made it to Houston.
But that wasn’t the last game ball Jacob Green would receive. By his own count, he earned some 40 game balls over the years. He went to two Pro Bowls, in 1986 and 1987, and is still listed among the Seahawks’ all-time leaders in games (218), starts (176) and sacks (116). He was placed in the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor in 1995 and remains one of the most popular players in franchise history.
Jacob Green did everything and more for the Seahawks franchise. And yet, he does have one regret. If Jacob Green could do his football career over again, he’d want his father to be there to see it through.
“He’d have loved it,” Green said. “He’d really have loved it. Like he always said: a chip off the old block.”
Jacob Green Sr. may well have been watching from somewhere, and it’s safe to assume that his chest swelled with pride even after Jacob Jr.’s football career ended. Jacob Green Jr. went on to open a home for displaced teenagers, he runs a charity golf tournament outside of Seattle, and he established an atrium at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in honor of his father.
A chip off the old block, indeed.
In April 2008, nearly 17 years after Jacob Green played his final game with the Seahawks, he displayed a little father-like pride of his own. The Seahawks used a fourth-round pick in that year’s draft on a defensive tackle from Texas A&M named Joseph “Red” Bryant. While Bryant wasn’t related to Green, he was well on his way. The 318-pound defensive tackle was engaged to be married to Jacob’s daughter, Janelle.
“It’s a dream come true, really,” Jacob Green said of his future son-in-law following in his footsteps to Seattle. “It’s a very emotional day — for me, and for him, and for my family. I thought I got drafted today; I really did.”